I’ve now made it a habit of mentioning six new musical discoveries I made this year. I don’t have very mainstream tastes, so its likely that most of these will be unfamiliar to you. Most of them you can sample on Bandcamp to see if they might appeal to you – I’ve linked to the albums and sample tracks for that.
Jazzrausch Bigband is compelling evidence that, however unlikely it sounds, Duke Ellington had a baby with Kraftwerk. Techno beats and textures, performed by a big band, with quirky lyrics (I’ve not found Wittgenstein to be a common lyrical inspiration for musicians), and appealing solos. I’ve listened to several of their albums this year, picking this, older one, out for longer tracks that allow the band to stretch into their material. This video is compelling evidence that they are a lot of fun live too.
Chants by Al-jiçç
sample track: Route
The Mediterranean is a fascinating mixing pot: Graeco-Roman classicism, catholic Europe, the Maghreb, Ottoman, and Arabian cultures united by trade over the course of centuries. Al-jiçc is a Portuguese quartet (guitar/keyboards, clarinet, bass, and drums) that that sips from that stew, with a trance sound of subtle rhythms and Arabic melodies. (If you fancy a more klezmery Mediterranean clarinet with a driving rock foundation, my near-miss pick of Yom and Wonder Rabbis might interest you.)
Humans by London Afrobeat Collective
sample track: Stop Talking
Afrobeat is a style of music, most associated with Fela Kuti, that combined complex and danceable rhythms with vocals calling out for political change in West Africa and beyond. Like any captivating musical style, it’s traveled and influenced others around the world, landing in this case with an international band based (I assume given their name) in London. They are a hard-driving eight piece band of guitars, horns and beats behind the assertive vocals of Juanita Euka. With folks like these, Afrobeat has a bright future.
June Tabor has long been one of the treasures of English folk music. She’s appreciated not just for a deep, expressive voice, but also for great taste in collaborators who dine on a varied musical diet; based on, but branching beyond the English folk tradition. Quercus is her trio with saxophonist Iain Bellamy and pianist Hue Warren. Together they create thoughtful interpretations that can even turn Auld Lang Syne into a lovely piece of music.
Jokers by Vincent Peirani
sample track: River
The accordion is a rarity in serious musical circles, usually only found in Folk and Tango. Vincent Peirani lays out proof that it has far wider abilities, capable of playing as central a role in Jazz groups as the piano. This proof comes from a wonderful catalog of albums, involving glorious collaborations with artists from the ACT stable. With Jokers he forms a trio with guitar and drums, tackling his usual mix of original music with some fascinating reinterpretations from more widely popular artists.
New York United, Volume 2 by Daniel Carter, Tobias Wilner, Djibril Toure, and Federico Ughi
sample track: New York Flower
I’m mostly rather wary of avant-garde free jazz, as it leads to discordance, ramblings, and screeches that I find tiresome. Here, those elements don’t dominate. This album was recorded by having a free jazz improvisational session, later edited and manipulated in the studio. The result is music from a dream that combines improvisational melodies with an electronica-enhanced rhythmic texture.
The main reason I make this annual article is to hopefully lead my readers down some new musical paths. That mostly gels well with my own explorations, since I don’t listen to much popular music. But I will call out a mention that’s both old and popular. Of the many rock bands I listened to in the 80’s, Queen has probably aged the best. For some reason, only this year did I get around to acquiring the recording of their 1986 Wembley concert. Listening again to that set, I was reminded that Queen in the studio was like Dread Pirate Roberts fighting left-handed. The first time I listened to this set, I was standing on a surprisingly resilient plastic folding chair, straining to see the stage. I won’t claim that that was the best live gig I’ve been to, as I don’t like stadium concerts, but Queen could make any venue seem special. Few bands can match their energy, none are fronted by the greatest showman of them all.
I hope these suggestions have given you some new music to enjoy. If so, please let me know what you liked. Again I’ll give my thanks to my main sources for this music: Dave Sumner’s monthly columns on best jazz on Bandcamp Daily, and James Catchpole’s OK Jazz podcasts from the gritty streets of Yokohama.
Annual Musical Discoveries
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